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Why is there a metallic taste in my mouth?

Besides being a symptom of a variety of ailments, a persistent metallic taste can be quite maddening. It ruins the flavor of everything you eat and drink.
Besides being a symptom of a variety of ailments, a persistent metallic taste can be quite maddening. It ruins the flavor of everything you eat and drink.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Dysgeusia -- an altered sense of taste -- often leaves your mouth feeling as if you just finished a meal consisting of loose coins instead of steak and potatoes. A persistent metallic taste may seem like a good reason to worry, but try not to fret too much. There are several possible explanations, most of which are not a cause for concern.

One of the most frequent causes of dysgeusia is hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. The metallic taste usually dissipates when hormones stabilize during the second trimester, but there are ways to reverse the condition simply by consuming certain foods and drinks. Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, the authors of "What to Expect: Eating Well When You're Expecting," advise pregnant women to, "Combat heavy metal with acid. Focus on sour flavors (such as citrus juices, lemonade or foods marinated in vinegar -- assuming your tummy can handle them) that tend to increase saliva production, thus decreasing the bad taste in your mouth." Some prenatal vitamins can also cause a persistent metallic taste, so ask your doctor about switching vitamins to help return your taste buds to normal.

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You also may notice a metallic taste if your sense of smell has recently been impaired. Smells and flavors are closely related, and nerve endings on the tongue can sense irritation within the nasal region. A metallic taste or sensation could be the result of a cold, nasal infection, runny nose due to allergies, sinusitis or nasal polyps [source: Danoff].

Read on for more reasons why your mouth might taste like a roll of pennies.

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There are plenty of reasons you may have a metallic taste that aren't related to pregnancy or your sense of smell. Antibiotics and anti-thyroid and neurological drugs are just a few of the medications that may cause dysgeusia. People undergoing chemotherapy and radiation -- as well as those recovering from surgeries where anesthesia was used -- also may report experiencing a metallic taste both during and after treatment. Those suffering from head and neck cancers and other various medical conditions, like Bell's palsy, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and gastroesophageal reflux disease, may also have a persistent metallic taste as a side effect [source: Danoff].

Unhealthy practices like smoking or having poor dental hygiene can also cause a foul metallic taste. Oral infections such as gingivitis and periodontitis often cause gums to bleed. The iron that is released as blood breaks down in the mouth can leave a strong metal taste behind. To prevent this from happening, combat dental disease and bacteria by scraping your tongue, brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing regularly.

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Dysgeusia can also be caused by a vitamin or mineral deficiency, like B-12 or zinc, or an overdose of a particular nutrient, dietary supplement or a food containing potentially toxic ingredients. An overdose of selenium -- a mineral found in seafood, lean red meat and Brazil nuts -- can cause a metallic taste. Excessive zinc consumption could also produce this condition as a side effect [source: Srilakshmi].

Perhaps the most serious cause of a metallic taste is clupeotoxin poisoning. This potentially fatal condition occurs after consuming plankton-eating fish such as sardines, herring, tarpons or bonefish contaminated with the toxin. This poison can not only cause one's mouth to taste like metal, but the victim can become violently ill, and approximately 50 percent of cases of clupeotoxin poisoning result in death. Besides dysgeusia, symptoms can include blue-tinged fingers, toes, nose and lips, vomiting, diarrhea, lightheadedness, abdominal pain and a drop in blood pressure [sources: Hui, WebMD].

Even though most common causes of a metallic taste are easily treated, if the condition is persistent, it's important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. If you'd like to know more about why your sense of taste could become impaired, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Danoff, Rob. "She has a Bad Mouth Taste -- Dysgeusia?" MSN. 2011. (Sept. 20, 2011) http://health.msn.com/health-topics/oral-care/she-has-a-bad-mouth-taste%E2%80%94dysgeusia
  • Hui, Yiu H. "Foodborne Disease Handbook: Seafood and Environmental Toxins." 2001. (Sept. 21, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=vZ-kuMWqA_wC&oi=fnd&pg=PA23&dq=clupeotoxin&ots=EyZfEgEdcP&sig=-9TQcgA0Oqz3S6mVAXV9OIEzsT4#v=onepage&q=clupeotoxin&f=false
  • Murkoff, Heidi Eisenberg and Sharon Mazel. "What to Expect: Eating Well When You're Expecting." 2005. (Sept. 20, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=Uw_LIJjmnOgC&pg=PA26&dq=metallic+taste&hl=en&ei=YGd2TuGEOJKUtwfEuZG7DA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CE8Q6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=metallic%20taste&f=false
  • Srilakshmi, B. "Nutrition Science." 2006. (Sept. 21, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=f_i7j4_cMLIC&pg=PA202&dq=Zinc+deficiency+metallic+taste&hl=en&ei=Jqd2TpDqAozBtgeUvMSaCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CEsQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • WebMD. "Clupetoxin Poisoning." 2011. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/clupeotoxin-poisoning

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